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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



Ring-necked Pheasant
 Non-native Ring-necked Pheasants were first introduced to Oregon in the 1880s and today are established in much of Colorado.  They are native to China and East Asia.  Males or "cocks" may have a harem of about a dozen females.  The hens usually lay about a dozen eggs on the ground in dense grasses.  They roost in trees or in dense shrubs.  During very cold weather, pheasants can become dormant.  Sometimes males demonstrate a behavior called "harem defense polygamy where one male keeps a small group of hens away from other males. Three males and one hen was seen today near Upper Twin Pond.  The masses of tumbleweed provide additional cover to these game birds.

Returning, Blue-winged Teal, Say's Phoebes, and Common Grackles made a showing on the Chico today, 30 March. 
Posted by Bill M. on 03/30/2015

Tiger Beetles
 For those who focus their attention on smaller life forms, there is an amazing diversity of insects found on the Chico.  Dragonflies come in many colors and are found from May through October, but often overlooked because of their tiny size are the beetles and true bugs.  Out in the sand, a few species of tiger beetle emerge on warm days and they will be replaced in July and August by summer species.  This Festive Tiger Beetle is one of the brightest species with metallic red and green hues.  It was discovered and named by the Father of Entomology, Thomas Say, the same person who discovered a handful of birds new to science when he was the biologist on Long's Expedition to the Rocky Mountains. Thomas Say even has a fairly common Chico bird named after him, Say's Phoebe, found in early spring through the summer around the headquarters area. 
Posted by Bill M. on 03/23/2015

Barn Owl at the Banding Station
 Even after a work day with 25 volunteers trying to eliminate some of the tumbleweeds near the Banding Station, including loud tractors, pitchforks flying, and burning, a Barn Owl remained in the area, here on Monday morning.  Females line their nests (same nest used year after year) with owl pellets, the pellets shredded to make a soft layer for the eggs. They are known to nest at any time of the year, especially when rodents are abundant, such as this year.  Barn Owls are entirely nocturnal hunters so the non-native fox squirrel population is safe from these owl predators.  Not so for the majority of rodents who, like the Barn Owl, feed during in evening hours.  One of the their few predators is the larger Great Horned Owl. 
Posted by Bill M. on 03/23/2015

Nesting Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owls may be seen at any time of day and on cloudy days like today they may be easier to spot during daylight hours. While showing some visiting birders the wintering Chico Short-eared Owls, I found a nest with four eggs. One egg is laid per day so this may be only the beginning of egg-laying and other owls may remain to breed on the Chico.  When food is abundant, as it is this winter, clutch sizes are larger.  Nine-five percent of a Short-eared Owl's prey is voles, but the large rodent holes in the area appear to be pocket gopher burrows. Only the female incubates the eggs, but the male will bring food to her while she sits on the nest.  After hatching, the young can fly after 24-27 days, but they remain dependent on the adults for up to 7 weeks.  Short-eared Owls are listed on the Audubon Watchlist as a species in need of conservation attention.  
Posted by Bill M. on 03/17/2015

Short-eared Owl Successful Search
 Fourteen of us drove out to The Sand to see if we could find the Short-eared Owls wintering on The Chico.  Within the first minute of searching, our first bird flew up in front of us, followed by at least 10 more.  It was a life bird for half the group, left to right, Gary, Kathy, Linda, Patty, Mary Jane, Beth, and Dianna celebrate.  In our minds at least, four Short-eared Owls flew overhead. Photo by Jeannie Mitchell with Photoshopped owls by me.

We noticed  the owls are favoring areas with dense Russian thistle and not in the areas with just native grasses.  These areas also have seemingly dense pocket gopher populations based on the number of burrows observed. The large group of Short-eared Owls found by Michael et al. in December were at least four miles east and a bit north of this location. The big question remains, will they all head north in a few weeks or will a few pairs remain to nest.
Posted by Bill M. on 03/12/2015

Wintering Short-eared Owls
 It didn't take too much convincing to persuade intern, Maribeth Gallion to commandeer the pickup "The Princess" to drive out to the area of The Sand where she had flushed Short-eared Owls twice earlier in the year while on horseback.  About 8 owls came off their day roosts on the ground flying in their characteristic slow wing beats with wings extended high over their heads.  

Short-eared Owls are found on all continents except Australia but they are declining in most of the areas where they breed.  They hunt during the night but also will hunt in late afternoon and at dawn.  In some areas where they don't compete with Northern Harriers, their winter roosts can number over 100 birds. They eat rodents, especially voles, but I saw a few dead kangaroo rats in their habitat and we found a few owl pellets too. This bird is almost never seen by birders on the Chico because we usually don't bird out in The Sand. This is a very cool owl that has the potential to breed here.
Posted by Bill M. on 03/09/2015

Mountain Bluebirds on the Move
 Mountain Bluebirds were heading north today as seen along the entrance road. Depending on where the birds perched, their blue feathers showed different hues. Unlike red and yellow pigmented feathers, the blue in bluebird feathers is a structural color.  Air pockets inside the feather's 3-D structure, plus keratin, plus how they interact with light creates different shades of blue.  The northbound migration of bluebirds marks the beginning of spring bird migration.
Posted by Bill M. on 03/06/2015

   
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