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, Feb 24, 2008
They're Back - Cinnamon Teal

The earlest migrant duck, one that completely leaves Colorado during the winter was at Chico today.  Two Cinnamon Teal drakes of this incredibly beautiful duck were at HQ Pond along with a other ducks that winter wherever there is open water.  Cinnamon Teal are true western species only breeding in our western states.  Along with Ruddy  Duck, it is the only duck that breeds in both North and South America.  Drakes return north first, followed by the hens.  This is a species that breeds in the upland areas on Chico. 

Most of the other duck species at Chico today are diving ducks compared to Cinnamon Teal and Gadwall, which are dabblers.  Dabblers are usually seen close to shore where they tip over, head down and tail up, in the shallow water vegetation.  They have smaller feet than the divers such as Redhead, Canvasback, and Ring-necked Ducks, whose feet need to be larger to help propel them into deeper water for their food.

I never think that winter is over until I see my first Cinnamon Teal of the year.  Time for Spring.

Posted by Bill M. on 02/24/2008

Sunday, Feb 17, 2008
Western Meadowlark
A partial exception to the "all birds are either brown and gray rule" at Chico are Western Meadowlarks.  Whereas their backs are streaked with many shades of brown and tan, there ventral sides are not.  This characteristic species of the western prairies is starting to sing on warm days on the Ranch.  It is one of the most easily recognized bird species (except it has a look-alike species, Eastern Meadowlark that sometmes makes it to Colorado) with its lemon-yellow breast and black bib.  

Western Meadowlark has an intersting latin name, neglecta, meaing overlooked.  It was so named by John James Audubon, becasue it was overlooked by the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  They obviously saw thousands of these birds but didn't notice that they have a different song than their eastern relatives.

On Saturday, Western Meadowlarks were starting their northbound migration and a few were visible on exposed perches, singing their beautiful flute-like loud songs.

Posted by Bill M. on 02/17/2008

Tuesday, Feb 12, 2008
Curve-billed Thrasher - Songster
What are the first birds to sing in the spring?  Two species on Chico Basin Ranch begin to nest in late winter.  Great Horned Owls can already be heard who-whowhowho-whoing at dusk and through the night, and they are already siting on eggs.

The first "songbird" to nest on Chico is probably Curve-billed Thrasher.  Another one of Chico's gray birds, this distinctive large species begings to sing in Febraury in many parts of its range.  All thrashers are mimics, and their loud songs are surpisingly complex.   Curve-billed Thrashers start the early breeding season with whisper songs, ones that are just audible from close range.  Later in early spring they will be seen in early morning perched on cholla cactus, their prefered breeding habitat, where the cactus spines protect nests from predation.   When not singing, Curve-billed Thrasher can be found if you know their characteristic whitWEETwhit calls.  By late March, one can often be seen perched on the large bales in the northwest cornoer of the big alfalfa field, adjacent to one of their favorite breeding areas.  Another pair is always found in the big cholla patch just south of  Bar JH.  

Posted by Bill M. on 02/12/2008


Sunday, my nephew Dan and I birded around HQ, by Black Squrriel Creek pond, and amongst the olives near the RMBO banding station.  Dan, who is new to birding, saw five species he had never seen before, Ferruginous Hawk, Marsh Wren, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Harris's Sparrow, and Merlin.

Merilns are small falcons with attitudes.  They show no fear of any other bird, smaller or larger.  They perch quietly while waiting for movement and then fly directly to their prey, including birds as large as pigeons.  Pigeon Hawk was an old name for this species, although it is a falcon, not a hawk.  

Merlins  nest in the coniferous forests across Canada and Alaska, terrorizing small birds that they pluck from the air with its talons.  Like all falcons, Merlins have long legs and sharp curved talons which are used to capture prey in the air.  All falcons also have notched beaks which they use to crush the neck vertebrae of their prey.

HQ pond is starting to open.  Canvasback, Redhead, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, and Common Goldeneyes are present.

Posted by Bill M. on 02/04/2008

Although this is a wintering American Tree Sparrow, a far north breeder who  is only here during the winter, it is a good example of what some birders call, LBJs, or Little Brown Jobs.  Someone new to birding may complain that all of the birds at Chico are either gray or brown and that many seem to look alike. 

Any artist would probably tell you that the predominant colors on the Eastern Plains are browns and grays, so species that also share those two colorations will be less likely to be seen by predators.  The cryptic coloration of most sparrows and the fact they feed predominately on the ground, give them a greater chance of survival while foraging.  Raptors and other prey species, when looking down from above, will see mottled shades of browns, the colors of the winter grasses and the winter birds.  The birds will live to see another day.
Posted by Bill M. on 02/01/2008

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