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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



Barn Owls
 Although Barn Owls nest upon the rafters of old barns their true nest site is the open cavity in large trees, usually where a limb has broken off.  Barn Owls are in a different family than the true owls with longer legs and serrated middle toes. In the world there are 11 species, only one species in North America. They are one of the most abundant owl species in the world but because they hunt only at night the are often not seen unless a day roost is known. Barn Owls hunt in open prairies and marshes and catch rodents almost exclusively.  Their heart-shaped face and orange feathering is distinctive. Their calls are loud screeches unlike the hoots of typical owls. Like the typical owls, the leading edge of their flight feathers are saw-toothed which enable them to have a silent flight. It was the Barn Owl that was used in experiments in the 1960 to learn that owls hunt by using their keen hearing and not by using their sight.
Posted by Bill M. on 03/21/2017

Bot Flies - Bird Food
 Other than entomologists, almost nobody likes flies.  But some fly species are extremely specialized and some are colorful.  The largest bird family in the world is called Tyrant Flycatchers although the members of the family eat many more species of insects than just flies. One of a group of flies of interest is called bot flies and a bumblebee mimic.  This deer bot fly is an adult and it has no visible/usable mouth because it only lives a short time and only to breed.  The adult female needs to find a host, a deer or elk, and she lays her eggs in the deer's nostrils where they hatch. The larvae then move through the throat to the base of the tongue where they mature.  When the time is right the larvae are coughed to the ground where they mature in the soil and eventually hatch into an adult like this one and the cycle starts anew. Deer bot fly adults are thought to be the fastest flying insect, capable of speeds up to 40 mph. This one did not fly and was probably at the end of its life. 
Posted by Bill M. on 03/06/2017

Tundra Swans
 Formerly called Whistling Swans, Tundra Swans are very rare on the Chico but five were present on 5 March, three adults (right) and two immature birds (left). Immature birds, ones entering their first summer are slightly smaller and have gray in their plumage.  Tundra Swans nest in arctic Canada and Alaska near the coast and populations mostly winter on the east and west coasts of the U.S., rare in the interior.  In 2010, two migrant birds were at the big headquarters pond too, but one day later in March. These are large birds with a body length 52 inches and with a wingspan of 83 inches and males weighing 16 pounds.   
Posted by Bill M. on 03/06/2017

Ring-necked Pheasants
 One of the few times I saw a hen pheasant actually watching at a pair of drakes showing off their colorful plumage.  Although non-native in North America, Ring-necked Pheasant is the state bird of South Dakota. Striking is the difference in size between the males and females. This introduced species is now found in most of the U.S. and Canada except in the southeastern states. In spring the red bare skin around the pheasants' eyes becomes engorged and turns a brilliant red.  
Posted by Bill M. on 03/03/2017

King of the Ducks
 Named by Alexander Wilson, Aythya valisineria, the species name is also the species name for the plant wild celery, a favored food item of Canvasbacks.  Canvasback, the name given to this duck because of its pale gray back and white sides with a wavelike pattern resembling canvas fabric.  A close look will show one of the males with mud on its face obtained from its foraging habit of diving in shallow waters for roots, tubers, and the basal parts of aquatic plants but they also eat aquatic insects. This species is a favorite of duck hunters and chefs and males weigh and average of 2.75 pounds. Chico birds are on their way north, a flock of about 30 at Upper Twin Pond.
Posted by Bill M. on 03/03/2017

Grasshopper Nymphs
 Why is a Northern Green-striped Grasshopper brown and where are its wings? Some grasshopper species overwinter as nymphs and as a result their wings are not fully developed in February or March.  This is a very common Chico species but unfortunately there was a major outbreak last spring and summer and as a result many of the young green ash trees were completely defoliated by this and a couple other grasshopper species  Although green-striped is part of its name, there are two color forms and the brown form seen here is much more common in Colorado than the green form. Birds who forage on or near the ground do consume numbers of these grasshoppers so maybe their abundance will be greatly reduced in 2017. This is the first grasshopper I have seen in 2017 on the Chico where as many as 60 might be seen throughout the year, some quite stunning in coloration. 
Posted by Bill M. on 02/13/2017

Marsh Wren In The Marsh
 Marsh Wren is a secretive winter visitor to the larger Chico marshes where they are heard more often than seen.  Although this species breeds in northern Colorado it does not do so on the Chico.  A Nebraska study comparing the songs of eastern Marsh Wrens with western Marsh Wren led the author to conclude there are really two species of Marsh Wren based on vocalizations and not plumage.  Western type Marsh Wrens, the ones breeding in Colorado, sing well over 100 song types whereas eastern types sing fewer than 50 songs and there are some subtle differences in the introductory notes between eastern and western birds.  The best way to see a Marsh Wren at Chico is to slowly approach a calling bird and then try to imitate its call, but only once or twice.  This method seems to drive the wrens crazy and eventually one will fly up on a cattail stalk to see where the competitor is located.  Here is today's result with this method. They are always in the wet portions of the marsh so getting really close usually doesn't happen. 
Posted by Bill M. on 02/13/2017

eBird
 In 2002 Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society founded eBird, an electronic method to submit bird sightings including both abundance and distribution to birders around the world.  So much data has been entered that in May, 2015, more than 9.5 million bird records were uploaded.  How does this affect birder/birding on Chico Basin Ranch?  In addition to data submission via computers or from apps on cell phones, participant may also use eBird to search posts and photos, explore specific regions, explore "hot spots" (Chico has 8), explore species and or subspecies maps, and examine bar charts to see which days of the year a specific species is most abundant in a specific hot spot location,  From eBird, we see that Barr Lake has the most total species reported from Colorado.  Ah, but Chico Basin Ranch has more!  Chico is divided into 8 "hot spots" so if the total number of species were added, they would surpass the number of birds reported from Barr Lake.  Birders using eBird may report their species and species numbers to one or more of these Chico hot spots: Chico (El Paso County) - 294 species, Chico Wooded Areas (El Paso County) - 215 species, Bell Grove (El Paso County) - 122 species, HQ area (Pueblo County) - 271 species, Rose Pond (Pueblo County) - 206 species, all of Chico in Pueblo County - 285 species, Twin Ponds (Pueblo County) - 83 species, and May Camp Area (Pueblo County) - 74 species.  Counting the three introduced game bird species, Chico's bird  list is 340 bird species giving it the actual highest species total of any birding location in Colorado.
Posted by Bill M. on 12/08/2016

Birds of a Feather Flock Together
 Birds (and other animals) do whatever is necessary to survive.  Now long past the breeding season when Scaled Quail are found in pairs, the remainder of the year they form flocks.  Although this photograph shows only one individual , it was a part of a flock of about 30 birds. Most groups of birds have interesting names like a "murder of crows" so it isn't surprising that a covey of quail is also called "a drift", "a flash", or "a rout".  There are both advantages and disadvantages to being a member of a flock.  The obvious advantage is having more eyes looking for predators which often results in the predator being less successful, especially for ground foraging quail. In times of cold, a covey huddles together providing group warmth.  Also, each member of a flock has greater odds that another member of the drift will be captured.  One of the disadvantages of flocking is the flock movements being more easily detected by a predator than an individual bird foraging quietly by itself.  This is a very good fall to find large numbers of Scaled Quail on the Chico.  The flock almost always spots you before you spot them resulting in a group of flying quail seen heading for cover. 
Posted by Bill M. on 12/01/2016

Prairie Falcon Chases Short-eared Owl
 While I was driving out in the sand, a normally nocturnal Short-eared Owl was observed flying in the middle of the day. Perhaps a coyote flushed this ground roosting species.  As the owl flew west, I saw a wintering Chico Prairie Falcon flying towards the unsuspecting owl.  The resulting encounter brought both species inches away from each other and both birds raised their talons in defense. The owl was quite vocal, hissing at the falcon. When the falcon and the owl separated, the owl flew higher and higher and disappeared from view.  The Chico sand hills provides home for a variety of rodents, enough so that Golden Eagles, Prairie Falcons, Ferruginous Hawks as well as Great Horned Owls, and both Long-eared and Short-eared Owls have  plenty of food during the winter months. The conflicts come when territories overlap. In contrast, during winter months most of the Chico breeding birds migrate south to areas where more abundant food can be found. This could be as close as New Mexico or as far away as South America.  
Posted by Bill M. on 11/21/2016

Red-bellied Woodpecker
 Over the past 30 years, an eastern species, Red-bellied Woodpecker has been found to be slowly moving west into eastern Colorado counties.  It is a rare bird on the Chico with only a couple records, so it was a pleasant surprise when one was reported at the banding station on Saturday and she remains there as of the 21st of November (and now seen on the 1st of December). Separation of sexes is fairly easy with males having red in the center of the top of the crown and females with gray in the same area as this photograph shows.  This individual was feeding on Russian olives and calling almost constantly. There is an ongoing joke that many birds are named for their least conspicuous feature and looking closely at this photo you might ask where is the red belly.  
Posted by Bill M. on 11/21/2016

Canyon Towhee
 The Canyon Towhee is a large, dull sparrow who is at home in the Desert Southwest, its northern range extending only slightly north of Chico into Colorado Springs.  It is considered a desert species and its nesting is triggered by spring or summer rains and therefore in some areas they can nest twice in a year. Over the past 10 years, this species has seemingly become more common on the Chico usually seen in open arid areas.  Water is the key to survival for most birds and mammals.  Here, a Canyon Towhee finds an almost full stock tank for its water allotment.  Its song has been described as follows... "at its worst the Canyon Towhee song is a series of dull chips."
Posted by Bill M. on 11/16/2016

Lingering Migrant
 Gray Catbird will sometimes winter in southern Colorado if there is enough food and for a catbird the food choice is fruits such as Russian olives and seeds. As the photograph indicates, this mimid (sings other birds songs during the breeding season) is found in dense thickets.  They usually leave Colorado by the first week of October but there is usually one or two found throughout winter somewhere in Colorado's foothills. This one was trying to hide in the brush at Upper Twin Pond yesterday.
Posted by Bill M. on 11/04/2016

Lapland Longspur
 The best way to find a longspur on Chico is too search big flocks of Horned Larks near water.  This longspur species, Lapland Longspur, is a long distant migrant, breeding on the tundra in Alaska and all the northern Canadian provinces and in Greenland and Siberia. Compared to the Chestnut-collared Longspur (see the fifth entriy below), Lapland has longer wings, a stronger face pattern, and always has the rufous wing coverts not found on the other longspur species.  It is best found by listening for its dry rattle call followed by, pause, pause, and then a soft, sweet "tew" note.  It is a common wintering species in plowed croplands in northern and eastern Colorado but is rare to uncommon on the Chico.  Finding a stock tank with overflow is the place to search for this species on the Chico.  If you make any noise or any quick (or slow) movements this species will fly off but will often return within a few minutes. So, "patience is a virtue, possess it if you can; seldom found in women and NEVER found in man."
Posted by Bill M. on 11/04/2016

Late Migrant Warbler
 In spite of the name American Redstart, this species is only reddish on adult spring males, the females and young males have yellow, not red. It is one of our more common, migrant, non-breeding warblers. In October, most, but not all warblers have migrated south so seeing this young male redstart at HQ was a treat.  The name comes from a corruption of the Old German name, rothstert meaning "red tail" but the European bird for which our redstart is named is not related to this species. Coupled with the fact that only males have the red-orange in its tail and you might begin to wonder if this is a good name for this species. In Cuba this species is named "candelitta" or in English "Little Torch" perhaps a better name for this species.  The small black mark on its face combined with the yellow base of its secondaries is an indication it is an immature male.
Posted by Bill M. on 10/28/2016

   
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