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

Ring-necked Duck

Probably the most common migrant waterfowl species on the Chico, Ring-necked Duck is most common from late February through March.  The ring on the neck is almost invisble except at very close range.  The ring on the bill is, however, much easier to see. 

Posted by Bill M. on 02/25/2011

The King of the Ducks
The large bay duck, Canvasback, is a favorite of duck hunters and often occurs with scaup and Redheads.  Much of the CBR ice is out and both Canvasbacks and Redheads are increasing.  The angular Canvasback head profile makes it an easy species to recognize and separate with the similarly colored Redhead.

The first Cinnamon Teal of the year arrived on Thursday adding some color to the brown winter landscape.

Posted by Bill M. on 02/25/2011

Butcher Bird Scores One
Loggerhead Shrikes breed on the Chico and during most winters a few remain here throughout the year.  Formerly thought to be raptors because of their hooked beaks, shrikes lack the talons of the true raptors.  They do know how to hunt, earning the local name of butcher bird, in the summer capturing grasshoppers which they impale on the barbs of barbed-wire fences.  In all season they will grab small rodents like this mouse which they tear to pieces with their strong beak. 

Loggerhead Shrike is a specialty of Chico Basin Ranch.  Last year a pair nested and fledged two young in a small tree at Rose Pond.
Posted by Bill M. on 02/21/2011

Migrant Bluebirds
Another sure sign that spring is approaching is the northbound migration of three bluebird species.  The most common bluebird species on the eastern plains of Colorado is Mountain Bluebird.  Long wings allows it to hunt by hovering just off the ground.  Mountain Bluebirds are cavity nesters, prefering old woodpecker holes in open areas.  Just slightly north in El Paso County, they can be found using manmade nest boxes on the Air Force Academy and along the bicycle trail running north to Palmer Lake.  The males, like this one, arrive first hoping to find the best nesting territory. Females follow shortly, attracted to the intense blue coloration of the males, but likely selecting a mate based on the territory she sees as best for hatching eggs and for ease at finding food to feed her young. In the past 20 years, short distant migrants like the bluebirds have had an average nesting date that is 7-14 days earlier than it was 20 years ago.  Most bird species need to have their broods fledge at the peak of insect activity and with average warmer temperatures affecting the insect activity, birds who feed insects to their young adjust the timing of their northbound migration accordingly.
Posted by Bill M. on 02/20/2011

Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Spring comes slowly at times.  When the ice goes out of the Chico ponds it usually signals the time when Chico's resident birds begin to display.  A southern specialty, common in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, Ladder-backed Woodpeckers only breed north to Colorado about as far as Chico Basin Ranch and it is one of the species birders hope to encounter here. 

February and March are two of the best months to see this species because the trees are leafless and males can be heard from quite far away.  The flaming red crown of the male lights up an otherwise colorless February day.  The distinctive ladder pattern on this species' back makes it very easy to I.D.

On Saturday at 3:30 it was 65 degrees F. Warmer temperatures are on the way.
Posted by Bill M. on 02/20/2011

Still Mostly Frozen

The only open water I found today was a tiny patch on the east end of Rose Pond where 17 Mallards, two Ring-necked Ducks and a pair of Green-winged Teal were found.  The Mallards also like the open slough just west of the corrals.  Compared to the common Mallards, Green-winged Teal are one of the smallest U.S. ducks at only 14 inches in length compared to the 23-inch long Mallards.  Both sexes of Greenies have a green speculum, very noticeable in flight and often times when they are at rest too. 

Posted by Bill M. on 02/13/2011

Rare winter visitor
The large thrasher, Brown Thrasher, breeds on the Chico in low numbers, but they are rare anywhere in Colorado in winter.  This one was trying to hide in the trees at the banding station along with other species that love Russian olive fruits, Northern Flicker and Bluejay.
Posted by Bill M. on 02/13/2011

Stuck in the Mud
While looking for birds, I found this cow stuck at the edge of the cattail marsh where the previously frozen marsh was thawing.  Allan had his hands full with this one.
Posted by Bill M. on 02/13/2011

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