Duck bills
Category: Birding at the Chico
Summer is a distant  memory.  With the onset of cold, most of the ponds are now completely frozen.  Back in warmer months a number of ducks bred on Chico.  One that did so is  Northern Shoveler.  What a great name for this spatulate-billed duck!  In fact its species name clypeata is Latin meaning shielded, pertaining to the shape of its bill.  As the photo shows, this young male shoveler (adult males have dark green heads) shows its characteristic bill shape.  Close inspection reveals another characteritic, a series of comb-like "teeth" (lamellae) inside both the upper and lower mandibles.  All of the dabbling ducks have these "teeth" but they reach the highest development of any duck species in shovelers. 

Shovelers feed from the bottom on occasion, but surface-feed more often than any other duck.  Shovelers are infrequently seen with their tails tipped up, unlike other dabbling ducks.  The shoveler's lamellae strain plant parts and zooplankton from the mud that they stir from the bottom with their webbed feet.  When the ice opens, Northern Shoveler will be one of the first migrants to head back to Chico and places farther north.

Posted by Bill M. on 12/29/2007

Sunday, Dec 23, 2007
Category: Birding at the Chico
All birds have feathers which they meticulously clean every day.  Most temperate climate birds begin to molt some, or all, of their feathers after the breeding season.  A term from this dramtic event is often refered to as prebasic molt, a descriptive term for the change to a basic dull plumage.  For some species this molt often results in a dramatic change in plumage coloration.   One of the best examples is the common American Goldfinch.   Throughout the summer male American Goldfinches are at their yellowest, combining a brilliant plumage to their song in an effort to find a mate.  However, winter goldfinches look anything but attractive; that is until late spring when they undergo a second molt.  This molt, the repacement of most of the dull winter feathers, results in another season of brilliance.  This molt is often refered to as prealternate molt.  

Regardless of season, American Goldfinch and other finch species rely on sunflowers and other seed-producing plants to survive the winter months.
Posted by Bill M. on 12/23/2007

Saturday, Dec 22, 2007
Category: Birding at the Chico
Said the night wind to the little owl,
"Do you see what I see?
Way up in the sky, little owl,
Do you see what I see?
A star, a star, dancing in the night
With a tail as big as a kite, 

Said the little owl to his brother owl,
"Do you hear what I hear?
Ringing through the sky, brother owl,
Do you hear what I hear?
A song, a song high above the trees
With a voice as big as the the sea,
With a voice as big as the the sea."
Posted by Bill M. on 12/22/2007

Monday, Dec 10, 2007
Category: Birding at the Chico

When I was growing up in Ohio, I often heard the term "snowbirds" applied to any bird that arrived during winter months, but was gone for the rest of the year.  These "snowbirds"  included birds with names like Snow Bunting, redpoll, and Purple Finch.  On Chico, a true "snowbird" is Lapland Longspur.  The name implies that it breeds far to the north, which it does.  Along with Chico's wintering American Tree Sparrow and a subspecies of Horned Lark, Lapland Longspurs breed on the arctic tundra, but retreat south during colder months.  This bird's flight notes alert birders to their whereabouts, but they are heard much more often than seen.  A carefull examination of Horned Lark flocks will often reveal a light brown bird with  two white outer tail feathers; plus the longspurs  are noticeably smaller than the much more numerous Horned Lark, with which they associate.

The best way to actually see a Lapland Longspur well, is to find a cattle stock tank that has water, especaially one with a board floating on top, or a tank where the water spills over the side.   If you are able to stay still for long periods of time, eventually a Lapland Longspur will come in to drink. 

Although many people who live in town feed birds, it is water that is the single most critical element in many birds' diets.  Plus, open water is neceassary for all birds in order for them  to groom their feathers each day, the preening process keeping each feather clean and aligned properly for fllight and for insulation against the cold. 

The drab Lapland Longspurs of winter, wear their feather tips during the fall and winter months, until by early summer, a beautiful breeding bird is left.  Unfortunately for Colorado birders, most Lapland Longspurs leave Colorado by the middle of April, while still in their winter garb.   

Posted by Bill M. on 12/10/2007

Saturday, Dec 08, 2007
Category: Birding at the Chico

A Swainson’s Thrush, banded at the RMBO Banding Station at Chico on 20 May ’06 was found dead on 4 June ‘06 near One Hundred Mile House, British Columbia by Joyce Moski of Burnby, British Colombia, a distance of over 1400 miles.  There are two populations of Swainson’s Thrush, the russet-backed west coastal races and the olive-backed interior races.  Both groups winter in different areas, the russet-backed races traveling into Central America and the olive-backed group, which breeds in Colorado and as far as northern Alaska, migrates south as far as northern Argentina. 

                                                                                                                           Chico bird banders take wing measurements of all birds.  They can tell by wing length measurements alone that Swainson’s Thrushes are long-distant migrants.  These olive-backed birds with the buffy faces and spectacles are the most commonly banded species on Chico.  They will begin to pass by on their way back north in early May. 

Posted by Bill M. on 12/08/2007

Thursday, Dec 06, 2007
Category: Birding at the Chico

There are 91 species of larks in the world, but only one regularly occurring lark species in North America, Horned Lark which can be found in all of the world's arctic regions..   Because there is no competition between species in the Northern Hemisphere, Horned Larks are found in almost all open habitats.  Unlike many songbirds, larks walk, and don’t hop.


The “horns” on Horned Larks are actually feathers that can be erected during displays.  Horned Larks are common in winter on the Ranch, where large flocks are often found around any stock tank with water and in prairie dog towns.   Winter flocks contain different subspecies that can be differentiated by throat and back color,


In North American there are 26 recognized subspecies.  Each population has its back color matching the color of the ground where they breed.  This enables Horned Larks to feed on the open ground and avoid predation.  All Horned Larks have a greatly elongated hind claw for scratching in the ground, and birds inhabiting soft soil types, like the Sand Hills area, have longer claws.   A common bird on Chico, and the most common bird in Colorado, Horned Larks seem to be a species that birders tend to ignore.


Posted by Bill M. on 12/06/2007

Sunday, Dec 02, 2007
Category: Birding at the Chico

At one time or another most kids have been convinced to go out at night with a sack and flashlight to find the mythical snipe, which of course, was nowhere to be found.   The word sniper is derived from the impossible to locate, snipe.  Most non-birders however, don't know that there are a number of species of shorebirds called snipe.  The species that is found in most of North America is named Wilson's Snipe.  

Today, I flushed 6 Wilson's Snipe along the spring behind the chicken coop at HQ.  Although I watched one of them land nearby, it still took me about 2 mintues to locate it with binoculars because of its amazing cryptic coloration. 

Try to find the bird from the lower photograph, a Chico Wilson's Snipe, in the upper photo.   I promise that it is there.   When you find it you will see how well camouflage works in the avian world.

Posted by Bill M. on 12/02/2007

Saturday, Dec 01, 2007
Category: Birding at the Chico

Brad Steger saw and photographed this bobcat out near Ruth's tree, while at the same time his brother, Brian, was watching and photographing a group of roosting Long-eared Owls yesterday.  Chico's mammal list is growing.  This May three of us saw a young  elk in the same area.

Brad reports seeing the continuing White-throated Sparrow near the Holmes Corral, plus an uncommon Canyon Towhee in the same area.  Two days ago John Drummond reported seeing a Swamp Sparrow at the HQ Marsh, a spot where they have been recorded in winter and spring in the past.  A pair of Curve-billed Thrashers continue to be seen near the north side of the horse corrals by HQ, often feeding on the ground near the ditch. 

Posted by Bill M. on 12/01/2007

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