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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



I'm So Special
 The bird who sings his name all day long, Dickcissel, seems to me to be singing..."I'm so special" over and over. Most birders miss seeing this bird on Chico because Dickcissels usually arrive in June when most bird migration is over.  This is an eastern species who nests in tallgrass prairies and weedy fields so you won't find this one out on the Chico shortgrass prairie. Also, sometimes large flocks of non-breeding birds hangout during summer months.  Today, I counted 9 singing males but I didn't see any females. This species is an alfalfa specialist in some agricultural areas and most alfalfa fields are mowed three times during the summer so rarely does a Dickcissel get to nest in this habitat type.  One had been at the Chico alfalfa field but with the recent mowing it is no longer there. Dickcissels are about the size of a House Sparrow and current taxonomy places them in with the Cardinal and Allies Family.  
Posted by Bill M. on 06/18/2017

Female Lark Bunting
 In some bird species males and females look identical but in many ground nesting birds, females need a dull plumage to avoid detection by predators.  And during winter, brightly colored males often molt to a dull plumage which too will help them avoid detection, or as the poet, Ogen Nash wrote, "then they go and change their plumage, which takes us back to ignorant gloomage..." Here is a female Lark Bunting, noticeably different looking than the males (see next entry). 
Posted by Bill M. on 06/16/2017

Lark Bunting
 Colorado's State Bird, Lark Bunting. Males (here) and females are noticeably different in appearance. These sparrows, not buntings, are birds of the Great Plains and prefer to nest in prairies with sand sage like what is found on the eastern regions of Chico. Like a few other prairie species, males skylark while singing which projects their loud song further so more females might here them. They are often very social wintering and migrating in large flocks. In ideal habitat nests can be as close as 100 feet apart.  Lark Buntings feed on grasshoppers and other insects.  A couple of their less common names are buffalo bird and prairie bobolink, a species it is sometimes confused with.  The species name, melanocorys, comes from the Greek, melanos meaning black in color, and from koros or lark, a reference to their flight songs. 
Posted by Bill M. on 06/16/2017

Ground Nesting Bird Warning
American Badger is a resident on the plains and Chico is no exception. Although their primary food source on the Chico is spotted ground squirrels and black-tailed prairie dogs, the majority of birds nesting here nest on the ground and badgers find them easy prey.  American Badgers are nocturnal except when feeding young.  They choose sandy soils so it is surprising more badgers are not seen, especially in early morning hours.  This one came out to see who was present at midday.  
Posted by Bill M. on 06/02/2017

Black Terns at Headquarters Pond
 One of the prettiest birds seen in both spring and fall at Chico is the Black Tern. Terns are notorious for their diving skills plunging head first into the water to grab small fish. But, Black Tern has a different set of hunting skills and they do not dive.  Like their relatives, they hunt over shallow bodies of water but they are hunting dragonflies and other flying insects.  Here, a Black Tern opens its bill to take the most common Chico dragonfly, Variegated Meadowhawk. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/30/2017

Bird Predator
 Many birders who come to Chico have never seen a swift fox here. But, driving in the shortgrass prairie 2-tracks gives everyone a good chance to find this very small prairie fox. Even though they are mostly nocturnal hunters, during the breeding season, swift foxes also hunt during daylight hours to ensure enough food can be provided to the kits.  Birds and bird eggs are just some of the food items these small foxes search for and small mammals and even insects become food for these foxes.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/30/2017

Chestnut-sided Warbler
 One of the few warblers with chestnut coloration, Chestnut-sided Warbler is an eastern species so Monday's birders were happy to see and hear a singing male at Rose Pond. This is a species that prefers second growth mixed woodlands but during migration it is found where the food is.  As in most springs, the food at Chico for warblers is found in peachleaf willows whose blooms attract a variety of insects.  Chestnut-sided Warbler is one of the species where females don't look anything like the males, the females having a lime green back. Sadly, migration is coming to a close but each day in May seemed to provide one interesting migrant. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/30/2017

Time for Phalaropes
 The three species of phalaropes are shorebirds who forage mostly on the water's surface where there is a midge hatch occurring. First to appear at Chico are Wilson's Phalarope followed by Red-necked Phalarope (photo).  Phalaropes are in the shorebird family and females are more brightly colored than males which suggests something interesting goes on during breeding. After laying eggs females rarely return to the nest.  Males assume all the duties of incubating eggs and raising the young. An uncommon bird in migration most migrate offshore during spring and fall migrations and they breed in the high arctic of Alaska and Canada. While feeding, Red-necked Phalaropes spin in a circle creating a vortex which brings invertebrates to the surface where the phalaropes glean food or they use their very thin bills to probe just below the surface of the water.  Red-necked is the smallest phalarope. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/22/2017

Pikes Peak Birding and Nature Festival
 Over a two day period three groups of 15 birders plus leaders were taken to the best birding spots on the Chico. Over 100 bird species were tallied and I heard only positive comments about the experiences.  Probably the most exciting bird was a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, the State Bird of Oklahoma but rare in Colorado with 3-4 sightings over the past 15 years on Chico. Scissor-tailed Flycatchers are stunning especially when they fly with their super long tails spread open. The one spotted at Rose Pond was fairly close to the dam and seemed to be catching grasshoppers and other insects found close to the ground. When flying, their peach-colored underwings and flanks are amazing as is their crimson axillaries (arm pits).  It is one of the most beautiful birds breeding in the U.S. Its breeding range includes only a few states from western Missouri, Arkansas and parts of Louisiana west to Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/22/2017

Rare Bird - Golden-winged Warbler
 A female Golden-winged Warbler was found on Sunday in the willows below the small headquarters pond.  It was still there on Monday.  This bird is uncommon in its range, mostly northern Midwestern states. It's problem is its closest relative Blue-winged Warbler.  Both have similar songs, bee-buz for Blue-winged and bee-buz-buz-buz for Golden-winged. Also, they even sing each other's song at times. Blue-winged Warbler has been encroaching and out- competing in Golden-winged Warbler habitat and so seeing Golden-winged on the Chico was a big and pleasant surprise. This one, no black bib, is a female which makes it even more chickadee-like than it already is. The genetics is quite interesting with 2nd generation backcross hybrids having names, Brewster's Warbler and the rarer Lawrence's Warbler a bird with recessive traits. Many people came on Sunday and Monday and were successful in viewing this rarity and as a result more rarities were also found in the area. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/15/2017

Watch Your Step
 Hawk food for sure but the annual warning here to watch where you are stepping on warm days. I didn't because it was April and only 60 degrees but luckily this prairie rattlesnake coiled and shook its rattle in its warning defense. Snakes including the prairie rattlesnake are defenseless against the sharp talons of predatory birds of prey who obtain a good meal after catching one of these. The forked tongue increases the surface area where chemical receptors help these snakes analyze potential food or potential predators nearby.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/11/2017

Big Bad Bird Predator
 This winter I reported up to 14 Long-eared Owls were roosting in the banding station woods. The need to keep out of view from both above and below and a need for a horizontal perch keeps their wintering locations to a minimum. When that many large birds roost side-by-side they will eventually be seen by birders and bird predators. In this case a large bobcat has been seen walking in the areas where the owls had a winter roost but what the bobcat doesn't automatically know is that the Long-eared Owls were only wintering so this one was in for a surprise when it visited the roost.  Two bobcats have been seen off-and-on in the banding station net lanes, even during the afternoon like this one.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/11/2017

Ovenbirds
 One of the warblers that is an annual spring migrant on the Chico, Ovenbirds are necessarily dull in plumage because they nest on the forest floor building an oven-shaped nest, a character used for naming this species. They are best know for their loud songs, singing "teacher teacher teacher" for long periods.  The orange crown stripe is sometimes visible and the breast spotting is reminiscent of thrushes.  Its scientific name, Seiurus aurocapillus comes from Greek words meaning to shake its tail, a characteristic to look for as they walk on the ground. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/11/2017

One Of Our Dullest Sparrows
The dull sparrow named for John Cassin, a Philadelphia ornithologist,  is far more often heard than seen.  That is until breeding season when males sing from either a song perch like a cholla cactus or by skylarking.  When skylarking these sparrows are easy to see as they flutter their wings as they drift towards the ground trying to attract a mate. Although described as a dull sparrow, a closer examination proves the opposite to be true, the beauty subtle, not bold.  This bird is a Chico specialty and numbers vary from year to year. They are back in the cholla grassland, the males heard from some distance away.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/11/2017

Who's The Most Colorful?
 Male Bullock's Orioles are loud and brightly colored yet are surprisingly difficult to see well except when they first arrive from the tropics to breed on the Chico.  Related to meadowlarks and grackles, the feature that all Icterids have is a strong, straight and pointed bill. Most passerines have 10 primary feathers on each wing; not so the Icterids which only have 9.  Bullock's Orioles place their nests far out on thin branches hanging their basket-shaped nest away from predatory fox squirrels and tree climbing snakes.  They often find colored twine to line their nests making finding one of them easy.  Bullock's Orioles just arrived two days ago.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/07/2017

   
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