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

Finally, Blue-winged Teal arrived to join their close relatives, Cinnamon Teal.  Two of the easiest ducks to I.D., that is the males.  The females are a different story.  The bill shape is more spatulate in Cinnamon Teal and the white spot behind the eye more noticeable in Blue-winged Teal.  A very close inspection will also show some cinnamon wash on breast feathers on female Cinnamon Teal(s).  Hunters call a group of teal, teal, but grammar police call a group of teal, teals.
Posted by Bill M. on 03/30/2014

Common Migrant in Cholla

Four thrasher species have been seen on the Chico.  The one that is the most common in migration and one that will on occasion stay to nest is Sage Thrasher, a bare ground and shrub specialist of the western states.  To separate from the resident and larger Curve-billed Thrasher, the bill tells the story.  Strongly curved in Curve-billeds and shorter, thinner, and straighter in Sage Thrashers with the breast with large, dark streaks. This species feeds on the ground, searching for beetles and other insects and is often seen running, not flying from one perch to the next.  A few were singing today in the cholla grasslands.

Posted by Bill M. on 03/30/2014

Harriers on the Move

Out in front of the strong winds forecast today, a number of Northern Harriers were flying low over the marshes.  This one, a female, with the boldly barred secondaries, separated from the mostly gray males and the juveniles that have an orangish wash on their bodies.  With her wings in a "V" and the tail closed this would be called a partial soar.  When really on the move the tail would be spread and the wings in a stronger "V" to catch all of the wind and thermals. The dish face is distinctive in all harrier species, offset ears enabling them to hear small rodents in the cattails and rushes.

Posted by Bill M. on 03/30/2014

The Largest Sparrow
Harris's Sparrow, the largest sparrow species, is seen most years on the Chico in low numbers.  A young bird with the black throat patch will make it easy to I.D. It was named by John James Audubon for his friend, Edward Harris (1799–1863), a companion of Audubon’s on his 1843 trip up the Missouri River.  A good trivia quiz is: what is the only bird species that breeds only in Canada?  Depending on the taxonomy you use, the answer is Harris's Sparrow. 
Posted by Bill M. on 03/25/2014

A True Prairie Hawk
Ferruginous Hawk is a regular winter visitor on the Chico.  It is the largest raptor in the genus Buteo that also includes Red-tailed, Swainson's, and Rough-legged Hawks.  In flight, like this adult light phase bird, notice the dark reddish feathered tarsi contrasting with the mostly white ventral areas, the dark comma at the bird's wrist and the white underside of the tail, all used for I.D. purposes. Their large talons enable them to hunt prairie-dogs and rabbits. Ferruginous Hawks breed in 17 states and 3 Canadian Provinces all with at least some prairie component.  Farming has affected this species and government subsidies have been granted to U.S. farmers in some states to leave some of their acreage planted in grass with a few trees planted for nesting purposes. One of my favorite birds, this one slowly circling near May Camp Pond today.
Posted by Bill M. on 03/16/2014

Female Ducks in Flight
For beginning birders, two of the more difficult identification challenges are sparrows, little brown jobs to many, and female ducks.  While looking at the easy to identify drakes, make yourself take a look at the birds next to them, especially in the spring when they are most likely paired.  Here are two common spring migrants on the Chico, both female ducks.  The one trailing has a bill shaped similar to a Trumpeter Swan and as such it should be easy to I.D., a female Canvasback.  The one in the lead is a female Redhead, compare it with the birds in the photograph below. Both are big heafty ducks.
Posted by Bill M. on 03/06/2014

During the first half of March Redheads are the most common waterfowl species on the Chico, here flying over Rose Pond.  They are large ducks often called diving ducks because of the placement of their feet on the their body which enabales them to dive deeply, however, they are more often seen tipped over dabbling in shallow water.  Redhead females (how many do you see here) are described as faculative brood parasites, sometimes they dump their eggs in other Redhead nests, sometimes they lay their eggs in other waterfowl species' nests, and sometimes they do it the traditional way. During extended Colorado surveys for nesting Redheads, researchers found 52% of breeders in the South Platte drainage followed by South Park wetlands.  Utah's Great Salt Lake marshes are the center of breeding habitat for this soley North American duck, a favorite of duck hunters.
Posted by Bill M. on 03/06/2014

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