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

Wednesday, Mar 19, 2008
Migration - Mountain Bluebird
During most winters there are a few Mountain Bluebirds on Chico.  This winter was an exception, but today there were a few birds seen in  open grasslands in a couple locations, north-bound, or elevational migrants.  

There are three species of bluebirds in the world, and all three have been recorded on Chico Basin Ranch.  Although some would argue for their favorite species of bluebird, Mountain Bluebird is mine. The color of blue is intense and unmatched, which might be why it is my favoirte. 

Bluebirds are in the Thrush Family and the three members (the other two are Eastern and Western Bluebirds) are unique, for thrushes, in  the method they employ to feed.  In addition to hovering next to the fruit they intend to pluck, bluebirds also ground-sally.  In this foraging strategy, birds hunt from a perch, fly down to the ground, grab an insect, and then return to their perches, which is often a stiff stalk of grass.  

As their name implies, Mountain Bluebirds breed in open mountain areas, especially where conifers and grasses are found together.  All three bluebird species are cavity nesters, and all three readily take to homemade nest boxes mounted on fence poles or on tree trunks.  When a series of boxes are placed in a row on fence posts, this is referred to as a bluebird trail.  In Colorado, members of the Bluebird Society, maintain bluebird trails that they check on a regular basis, recording the success and failure of each nest box.  All boxes have a hinge that allows the box to be opened, and after each season, all nesting materials are removed from the boxes.   One of the surprises of monitoring a bluebird trail is encountering other cavity-nesting species using boxes that were intended for bluebirds.
Posted by Bill M. on 03/19/2008

Friday, Mar 07, 2008
Virginia Rail - Marsh Skulker
As the winter fades and temperatures rise, noises begin to be heard out in the Chico marshes.  Virgina Rails, breeders and sometimes a wintering species, are beginning to be heard and occasionally seen where water flows through cattail marshes.  Rails have narrow bodies and strong toes enabling them to pass through the marsh reeds and grasses.

Virginia Rails will build platform nests in the marsh using overhanging vegetation in early summer.  If the nest gets threatened during incubation of eggs, this species is capable of using their bills to move their eggs to another nest.  Nests can contain up to 12 eggs. 

It usually takes many visits to a marsh before one of these shy rails walks into the open while they search for food.  They use their downcurved bills to probe in the mud for insect larvae, and they can eat earthworms, small fish, and some plant seeds.

Posted by Bill M. on 03/07/2008

Sunday, Mar 02, 2008
Sage Thrashers Return
Sage Thrasher, a Chico breeding species, retreats south into Mexico for the winter, but begins a northbound migration in late February.  The first bird of the season was seen yesterday by birders Mark Peterson, Jim and Bill Schomler, and myself.  

Four species of thrasher have been recorded on Chico Basin including the Sage Thrasher.  The name thrasher is given to this group of birds presumably because of their tendancy to thrash about on the ground, searching for insects.  During the summer, Sage Thrashers will eat small fruits.  Although the name suggests that this species is found predominantely in sage, it is most ofen recorded on Chico in cholla grassland or shrubby habitats including four-winged saltbush or greaswood.

Of all the thrashers, Sage Thrasher is thinnest with a short pointy bill.  It spends most of its time running on the ground, but during early spring it will perch on top of a cholla cactus to sing it varied, sometimes mimicky song.  Like its bigger, larger-billed relative Curve-billed Thrasher, Sage Thrasher begins to sing in late winter.
Posted by Bill M. on 03/02/2008

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