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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

Mourning Cloak Butterfly
 A sure sign of spring are Mourning Cloak butterflies, this male hanging out in a sunny location waiting for interested females at the banding station woods.  Because they overwinter as adults, Mourning Cloaks (their dark browns and gold borders resembling a person cloaked for mourning the loss of a loved one) are always one of the first butterflies to be seen in late winter or very early spring. They are found across the U.S. and are also native to Eurasia.  The adults feed on tree sap, the larvae often seen in a communal web near cottonwoods or willows.  
Posted by Bill M. on 02/28/2016

Cryptic Coloration
 During WWI, the U.S. Army formed a camouflage unit composed of camofleurs who were artists and designers who were experts in the use of camouflage in their civilian lives.  In Chico's mostly semi-desert climate with shades of brown being the dominant color, birds rely on these same colors for their cryptic plumage in this environment. The large Curve-billed Thrasher relies on its camouflage to blend with its environment. Curved-billed Thrashers build their nests in dense stands of cholla cactus and it is their cryptic coloration that enables them to survive this mostly open habitat type. Walking on the ground while foraging is not a problem for this dull-colored bird.

Posted by Bill M. on 02/24/2016

The First True Sign of Spring
 Cinnamon Teal is a migratory duck. Most have usually left Colorado by the end of September and it is the first migratory duck to return north. For me, the arrival of Cinnamon Teal is the first true indication that spring is here.  I saw my first of the year today, 22 February on the big headquarters pond along with Green-winged Teal and an American Coot.  Just to the south of this threesome was a huge raft of ducks that included Canvasbacks, Redheads, Ring-necked Ducks, Common Goldeneye, American Wigeon, Gadwalls, and Northern Shovelers.  Spring has sprung. 
Posted by Bill M. on 02/22/2016

Long-eared Owl
 I saw a Long-eared Owl this morning and it saw me.  I counted over 50 owl pellets in the area, the compacted coughed up rodent body parts that come out easier from the crop and through the mouth than through the digestive tract.  From David Sibley's The David Sibley Guide to Birds, 2nd edition, he writes "many birding information networks now have a policy of not broadcasting the location of roosting owls, as the popularity of these birds, and the resulting traffic of visiting birders can cause enough disturbance to force the owl to move." 
Posted by Bill M. on 02/22/2016

Throwback Thursday - 18 September 2012
 Chico Creek is a home and path for travel for many animals because of the temporary ponds in various parts of the stream.  Here a young bobcat kitten peers down on me, relying on its cryptic coloration for defense. Mom, his, not mine, watched the action nearby. 
Posted by Bill M. on 02/18/2016

Sangre de Cristos from Chico
Yesterday's clear morning air allowed a fantastic view of the snow-covered Sangre de Cristo mountains, over 100 miles to the west.  Not in this photograph, but also clearly seen from this location was the outline of the Wet Mountains to the southwest and the two large Spanish Peaks to the south southwest. Two Common Ravens in a courtship flight can be seen in the foreground and above Chico's cholla grassland.
Posted by Bill M. on 02/17/2016

Valentine's Day Plus Two
 February is courtship time for some of Chico's birds.  Here, two days after Valentine's Day, a Common Raven parades a food item to a prospective mate, perhaps showing her he will bring food to the nest on a daily basis.  This display continued for a few minutes until both birds disappeared over the closest hill. Besides a tremendous aerial display, a range of low guttural calls and high pitched croaks were given throughout the display flight. 
Posted by Bill M. on 02/17/2016

Dead End
A sentry Ferruginous Hawk making sure one of the few Chico traffic signs is obeyed.  Notice the long gape (space between the bill) extending to the eye, the big head and the long tapered wings.  
Posted by Bill M. on 02/17/2016

What's A Falcon?
 Until recently, all falcons were thought to be closely related to hawks.  They all have hooked beaks and talons for tearing prey.  However, recent DNA analysis has shown falcons and somewhat surprisingly, parrots, both share a common ancestor, songbirds. A bit baffling at first thought. Falcons do not build their own nests but use cliffs or on the Chico, tree cavities.  In winter, our smallest falcon, American Kestrel, is common in prairie habitat where they use power line perches awaiting for a small rodents.  In spring and summer, nesting kestrels  include insects such as dragonflies and large beetle and butterflies in their diets.
Males and females are easy to separate, sexual dimorphism, as males like the one pictured above have blue-gray wings that contrast with an orange back and tail, whereas females have all rufous, no blue-gray, on their dorsal surfaces. 
Posted by Bill M. on 02/09/2016

Chico's Earliest Nesting Bird
 In December, Great Horned Owls, the most common owl on the Chico, are already paired and both males and females are calling, their distinctive low hoots heard throughout the nighttime.  By February, females are incubating eggs, sitting on nests, this one in a stick nest, others found in the cavities of large cottonwoods.  By early May, young owls are almost full grown and poking their heads out of cavity nests, or falling out of stick nests as the siblings fight for every scrap of food brought in. This is the essential predator, the adults with silent flight caused by the shape of the feather edges, hunt throughout the evening hours and rabbits, hares, skunks and large rodents are easy prey.  As in all owls, sounds are funneled into a parabola-shaped face where the squeaks of prey items are easily translated into precise locations. Razor sharp talons are used to break prey necks and tear flesh into bit-sized pieces. 

Posted by Bill M. on 02/09/2016

Early Breeder
 Surprisingly, a Chico bird breeding outside of a tree cavity is one of the first birds to nest on the Chico.  Curve-billed Thrashers males are known to have both hormone and testosterone reach their highest levels in February and both return to a winter levels by mid-April.  On the 8th of February I saw 5 pairs of Curve-billed Thrashers in cholla cactus habitat on the northern part of the Chico both members of the pair actively feeding together.  

This is a species that is known to be spreading its range northward.  Although the first Colorado record for Curve-billed Thrasher was in 1951, the second state record wasn't until 1967.  Today, however, Curve-billed Thrasher is a common Chico resident and breeder wherever there are dense stands of cholla. Spring can not be far away.
Posted by Bill M. on 02/09/2016

Throwback Thursday - 16 May 2008
A picture is supposed to be worth 1000 words.  Tex, charged with aiding in heifer birthing when needed, administers medicine to a newborn and notches its ear to show it has had medication.  The heifer, Tex's horse, and I look on.  The grove of Russian olives in the background was hydroaxed and treated during later years.
Posted by Bill M. on 02/04/2016

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