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

Long-eared Owl
Sunday there were two Long-eared Owls in the banding station area.  Chico is one of the best spots in Colorado to see this species during migration.  The remaining mature Russian olives provide food for rodents upon which these owls prey.  While active, as in this photograph, Long-eared Owls flatten their "ears"  but while trying to be camouflaged with their surroundings their "ears" stick up high and their bodies become elongated.  They are often first detected, like both birds today, when they crash through branches attempting to fly out of view. 
Posted by Bill M. on 03/31/2013

The word Bufflehead comes from a combination of buffalo and head. During the  breeding season (now) Bufflehead drakes can swell their head feathers in display giving them a large, bison-shaped head. North America's smallest diving duck, Buffleheads nest in tree cavities, often ones created by the woodpecker, Northern Flicker. Also today, a few of us noticed five Burrowing Owls, a couple of Sage Thrashers, Common Grackles flying by, a Lincoln's Sparrow, but mostly lots of waterfowl in all of the ponds.
Posted by Bill M. on 03/29/2013

Red-tailed Hawk
A good windy day today for raptors, like this soaring Red-tailed Hawk, equates to a bad day for rodents.
Posted by Bill M. on 03/18/2013

Reliance on cryptic coloration works for many ground nesting birds.  Here a hen Ring-necked Pheasant freezes rather than fly.  Both Great Horned Owl and a Red-tailed Hawk were in the area, watching and waiting.

Of note, both Greater Yellowlegs and Least Sandpiper were feeding at HQ Pond, both early northbound migrants.
Posted by Bill M. on 03/18/2013

Western Bluebirds Moving North
All three North American species of bluebirds have been recorded on the Chico.  Western Bluebird is the less frequently recorded but today there were two flocks, one just east of Holmes ranch house and the other just south of Rose Pond. Unlike red and yellow feathers whose color is diet related. blue feathers are seen because of another phenomenon. In the cells of each blue feather there are keratin molecules that separate from water. When a cell dies the water in the cell dries being replaced by air.  This leaves a structure of keratin protein containing air pockets (like a sponge). As natural light strikes a blue feather, red and yellow wavelengths cancel each other, whereas blue wavelengths reinforce and amplify one another and reflect back to us as one of many shades of blue.  Male Western Bluebirds reflect an intense blue color (see photograph above).
Posted by Bill M. on 03/18/2013

Abundant Redheads
Redhead, the duck, is the most abundant spring migrant waterfowl species on the Chico. This diving duck is restricted to North America and their abundance is likely correlated with the variety of habitats and food items they can exploit. Like most waterfowl the sexes are dimorphic with only drakes with the red head.  A couple of Ring-necked Ducks are also seen in this photograph. Redheads are known to exhibit faculatative brood parasitism more than any other North American Duck. The female chooses one of three options, 1) constructs her own nest while laying/incubating her own eggs, 2) parasatizes another duck's nest before constructing her own nest/laying her own eggs in her nest, or 3) parasatizes another nest and lays her eggs in that nest.  Species whose nests are sometimes parasatized by Redheads include: Canvasback (most often), Mallared, Northern Pintail, American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Lesser Scaup, Blue-winged and Cinnamon teal, Ring-necked Duck, and Ruddy Duck. On occassion a Redhead will parasatize a species that is not a duck including American Bittern, Sora, American Coot, and Northern Harrier.
Posted by Bill M. on 03/09/2013

Waterfowl Migration

March is the month to see a variety of migrant waterfowl on the Chico.  Today, the large Common Merganser was at Upper Twin Pond.  This species, as its name implies, is a widespread breeder in boreal forests in every Canadian province and in Europe and across Russia.  Somewhat surprisingly they nest in tree cavities and will often drop their eggs into other cavity nesting waterfowl nests.  Common Merganser is a fish eater and their serrated "teeth" hold  slippery fish in their bills with ease. They winter as far north as open water will allow. Other common names include hairhead, sawbill, fish duck, and shellduck. Because their feet are located far back on their bodies and because of their size, mergansers have to run across the water before gaining enough speed to take off.


Posted by Bill M. on 03/09/2013

Nap of the Earth
Prairie Falcons are on the move and they are hungry.  Here, one south of Upper Twin Pond was looking for Horned Larks and other birds in the cholla grasslands.  This one harassed a Great Horned Owl before flying very low trying to flush small birds hiding in the cacti before circling twice to check me out.
Posted by Bill M. on 03/09/2013

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